This week on Shabbat we read one of the famous stories about our forefather Abraham. As he was sitting in his tent, he saw three strangers walking by; he got up, rushed towards them and invited them into his home. He insisted on giving them water, washing their feet and feeding them with the finest food he could prepare. The characteristic trait of Abraham is loving-kindness, something that he espoused when he invited these strangers into his home and treated them as if they were part of his family. The mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, hospitality, is often described as being epitomised by Abraham with the Talmud describing the many rewards that were bestowed on the Children of Israel in the merit of Abraham’s hospitality. The Rabbis in the Talmud even say that the welcoming of guests is more important than the house of study or the welcoming of the divine presence.
Hospitality however, is distinct from charity; its aim is principally not to help those who are needy, but rather when we invite someone into our home, we are treating them with the upmost respect, putting them on the same footing as ourselves. The power of hospitality is that through inviting guests, we are able to bring people into our community, treating them as our peers whilst building and cementing friendships and relationships.
The word kiruv is often associated with a form of Orthodox outreach that can sometimes be seen as controversial and destructive. However, the word kiruv actually translates as “bringing close”. Abraham, the first person to be called a Hebrew, was famous for bringing people close by inviting them into his home and subsequently into his community. The lesson we can learn from Abraham is the value of inviting guests and how we can bring them close to our family and community. This is the kiruv that is universal for all denominations of Judaism and utilising it leads to a stronger, more vibrant and welcoming Jewish community.